Last week we chatted about the State of Florida’s redirection of fisheries management goals and the increased emphasis it's placing on trophy bass management. As if upset with the title “Bass Capital of the World” being tossed around to competing states, it appears Florida’s intention is to win the heavyweight belt back – and keep it.
As we dove deep into the newly implemented Black Bass Management Plan (BBMP) Florida is following, I mentioned a few key items still in need of thorough dissection here. This week’s topics focus on two major discussion points of the plan: further research into the impact of bed fishing, and awards programs for trophies.
Starting with awards, the BBMP includes the Trophy Catch recognition program, complete with prizes I still can’t believe despite inquiring twice with fisheries managers. While there are specific rules anglers should check into, the general breakdown is pretty simple:
1. Anglers register online and complete a very simple form;
2. A photo of the trophy fish must be submitted and must show the fish on a scale, with the weight clearly visible;
3. In the case of a bass, the fish must be released back into the body of water from which it was caught.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Just for doing so, the lucky angler is then awarded $100 worth of Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s or Rapala gift cards for fish weighing 8 to 9.99 pounds (plus other prizes including clothing and discounts for gear). For fish weighing 10 to 12.99 pounds, the gift-card prize increases to $150. For true giants weighing in over 13 pounds, the prize includes $200 worth of gift cards, clothing, a Glen Lau video, entrance into a drawing to fish with a TV celebrity, and a free fiberglass replica of the fish! That’s a prize pack valued at over $1,000.
Oh, and I forgot to add that everyone entered in the program is eligible to win a bass boat.
The obvious question to most bass nuts is “Who in the world wouldn’t release their catch with these types of perks?” I think the only hurdle the Florida FWC may still have to overcome is publicity for the program. Perhaps we will help with that here.
I commend those companies involved with prize donation and the state officials who pushed this thing through. I’m sure the cost incurred was tough to swallow.
The result, however, will surely be an overall increase in the catch and release of giant bass. Already, there are nearly 4,000 largemouth bass featured on the Trophy Catch website. Remember, to be eligible, those fish had to all be released.
Another integral part of Florida’s plan includes a hard look into the controversial topic of bed-fishing. Florida was always a leader in research on this subject, dating back to the work of renowned bass biologist Dr. Hal Schramm in the mid 1980s.
Today, however, Florida is taking further strides to determine the impact on a fishery when the onslaughts of sight-fishermen arrive each spring, often as part of major tournaments, as we have recently seen.
Florida officials were surprised to find a significant voice of concern against bed-fishing among recently polled anglers. In fact, bed-fishing ranked behind only aquatic plant management in terms of public outcry.
At this point, the study is in its second year and data is just starting to show a trend. The extent to which the state has gone to derive such findings has been incredibly extensive.
Numerous 1-acre ponds are being used as control environments for the study, and the exact numbers of fish, as well as their sex and individual genetic code are being recorded. Nests are counted and marked and spawners are studied from below by divers. Anglers catch the fish with popular hook-and-line methods and hold the fish in livewells for an hour.
The fish-less nests are then watched to determine egg predation by bluegills and other nest-raiders, and later to determine the spawning success. Later in the year, young-of-the-year bass throughout the fished ponds are accounted for to determine the overall success of the spawn. All of this data is then compared to the same findings for unfished, undisturbed test ponds of the same size with the same number of adult bass.
I had a fascinating conversation with FWC researcher Nick Trippel about the progress of the study and the findings thus far. Though the study is still in its infancy, Trippel noted that the number of nests in unfished test environments has been significantly higher than those in fished environments. Success of the nests and overall abundance of spawned fish, however, has shown mixed results.
Trippel also noted that tests are planned to expand to natural ecosystems in the wild as well. Over the next several years, it appears Florida officials are going to pull out all of the stops to determine exactly what’s best for their bass.
I’m incredibly curious to learn the results of these studies once data suggests a trend. After doing so, you can bet I’ll report those findings here.
I look at it this way: Although I’m by no means a purist, I find it very hard to believe that bed fishing does not impact a fishery, especially in the case of shallow, clear-water environments like those in Florida. Even more importantly, those fish that are taken from a spawning sight to a weigh-in dozens of miles away can be counted as a spawning loss, plain and simple.
When it comes to the health of our bass fisheries, bed-fishing just kind of rubs me wrong, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Remember, there was a time when all bass caught in tournaments were kept and killed. And one day, that just kind of rubbed somebody wrong, too.
Maybe it’s time we really gave this subject the attention it deserves. Florida, once way behind the other big-bass meccas in conserving its giants, appears to be taking strides to be the first one to swallow its pride and take an honest look.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)